The ’12 Days of Christmas’ is a classic holiday song first published in its current form in 1908. In a nod to the classic carol, join The Hockey Writers as we count down the 12 Days of Hockeymas. Each day, we will provide you with a piece of hockey history as we eagerly await the start of the 2020-21 NHL season.
The St. Louis Blues have had a number of great coaches spend time in their organization, including four of the five winningest coaches in NHL history. In fact, two of the top five began their career as the first two coaches in franchise history. Scotty Bowman’s first season behind an NHL bench was the Blues’ inaugural season (1967-68), and when he left for the Montreal Canadiens after the 1970-71 season, Al Arbour took his place and spent three seasons coaching in the Gateway City.
Through a 50-plus year history as a franchise, the Blues have had many great seasons. But four of them stand above the rest as far as coaching is concerned, because the Blues’ bench boss has won the Jack Adams Award honoring the best head coach in the NHL four times. Let’s look at each in turn.
Red Berenson (1980-81)
Red Berenson was a great player for the Blues and became a legendary head coach for the Michigan Wolverines of the NCAA. But he got his coaching start in the NHL with St. Louis. He took over the Blues for the 1979-80 season, an unremarkable season for the franchise. They finished second in the Smythe Division, with a 34-34-12 record. It was enough to get them into the playoffs, but they were quickly swept in three games by the Chicago Black Hawks (as their name was stylized at the time).
The following season was Berenson’s best as an NHL coach and the reason he won the Jack Adams Award. The Blues won the Smythe Division with an impressive 45-18-17 record. They defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2 in the Preliminary Round before falling to the New York Rangers in the Quarterfinals in six games. The 107 point season was enough to win Berenson the franchise’s first Jack Adams Award.
Unfortunately, the franchise fell into some turmoil, even considering a move to Saskatchewan in the early 80s. The 1981-82 season was a 72 point disappointment, and it would be Berenson’s last with the Blues.
Brian Sutter (1990-91)
The Blues would next win the Jack Adams Award exactly a decade later. Brian Sutter had been a player under coach Berenson and a mighty good one. He was the franchise’s longest-tenured captain, so the transition to head coach immediately upon his retirement in 1988 was a natural fit. Sutter’s first two seasons were unremarkable, though the team made the second round of the postseason each time.
Armed with the legendary and all-too short-lived Blues duo of Brett Hull and Adam Oates, along with new and controversial arrival Scott Stevens, the Blues were loaded for bear for the 1990-91 season. They finished 47-22-11, trailing only the Blackhawks in the Norris Division. The 105 points won Sutter the Jack Adams Award. But with both Oates and Stevens gone the following season, the team fell to 83 points. Like Berenson, Sutter would depart just one season after winning the coveted coaching honor.
Joel Quenneville (1999-2000)
Like Arbour and Bowman before him, Joel Quenneville began his legendary NHL coaching career with the St. Louis Blues in the 1997-98 season. Armed with a magnificent mustache and a loaded roster, the franchise saw some of its best years during his tenure (1997-2004).
The Blues went 37-32-13 in Quenneville’s first season behind the bench, making the playoffs with 87 points. But the following season was arguably the franchise’s greatest. They finished 51-19-11 with 114 points, winning the Blues their only Presidents’ Trophy. Despite a crushing seven-game defeat to the San Jose Sharks in the opening round of the playoffs, it was a strong enough campaign to win Quenneville the Jack Adams Award in his sophomore season.
Quenneville would go on to become the Blues’ winningest coach, finishing with 307 wins in 593 games behind the bench. But the team foolishly fired him during the 2003-04 season, before he would go on to coach the Colorado Avalanche, the Blackhawks (where he would win three Stanley Cups) and now the Florida Panthers.
Ken Hitchcock (2011-12)
The franchise fell into disrepair after Quenneville’s departure, and general manager Doug Armstrong turned to a friend to lift them out of it. Ken Hitchcock arrived during the 2011-12 season, and though he would only oversee 69 of the team’s game that season, he turned around a struggling franchise almost immediately.
Going 43-15-11 under Hitchcock, the Blues made the postseason for the first time in three seasons and only the second time in their last seven (dating back to the vacated 2004-05 season). The Blues even beat the San Jose Sharks in five games in the first round of the playoffs. That turnaround was enough for Hitchcock to win the Jack Adams Award, becoming one of three coaches (with Bill Barber and Bruce Boudreau) to do so after taking over a team midseason.
Hitchcock would coach the Blues until the 2016-17 season, when his acerbic personality would eventually cause an irreparable rift with the players. He remains the highest-ranked Blues head coach on points percentage (discounting current head coach Craig Berube’s one and a half seasons with the Blues).
Berube Barely Misses
Speaking of the active head coach, Berube almost became the fourth head coach to win the Jack Adams Award after taking over a franchise midseason. He joined the franchise during the 2018-19 season and helped pull them back from the brink and make the playoffs, ultimately winning their first-ever Stanley Cup. Berube was a finalist for that year’s award but would ultimately lose out to Barry Trotz.
The franchise has seen many great coaches through the years, including many of the greatest of all time. But in these four occasions, the voters recognized the Blues’ head coach as the best in the NHL that season. All four were deserving winners, and all four leave a significant legacy behind them in St. Louis.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.